Zante top resorts
Zante, the Venetian name for Zakynthos, is referred to in an Italian song as “fior di levante” (flower of the Levant) because of the scented breeze that sailors would notice on their approach to the island. It still abounds in colourful spring flowers, especially during spring, as the island is green and lush, in common with its Ionian neighbours. It is an all-round holiday destination, with something for everybody, from young ravers to families.
There is a clear divide between the overtly touristic south and east coasts and the wild and rugged north and west of the island. Anchoring both parts is the capital, Zakynthos Town, an appealing place that is lively all year and provides the greatest choice in facilities, whilst retaining a genuine working feel.
The best known resort, not always for the best reasons, is Laganas in the middle of the huge sweep of Laganas Bay. It is one of Greece’s busiest clubbing centres but there are more relaxing alternatives only a few kilometres away, such as Kalamaki, whose beach is superior as well. At the eastern end of the bay, the Vasilikos Peninsula protrudes southeast from the capital and at its neck lies the lively resort of Argassi.
The other main area developed for tourism is the east coast north of the capital, which is home to several popular resorts. The nearest to town is Tsilivi, an extension of the village of Planos, while further north are the almost adjoining resorts of Alikanas and larger Alykes.
Zakynthos Town was decimated in the same earthquake of August 1953 that destroyed much of Kefalonia. As a result, the town is mostly modern with just a few old churches and the odd vernacular building predating the catastrophe. It has recovered well in the sixty years since, however, and still ranks as one of the more appealing island capitals in Greece. It makes a great holiday base for couples and those who wish to explore the rest of the island extensively. It also has the best restaurants on the island, though not much in the way of nightlife.
The bulk of Zakynthos Town is built around the lengthy angular harbour, although suburbs extend along the coast to the north and across the small river south of the centre. Its main section is bookended by the enormous and impressive church of Agios Dionysios, the island’s patron saint, and the even grander square of Platia Solomou. The square is named after the poet, Dionysios Solomos, who penned the words to the Greek national anthem and there is an attractive statue to Liberty on the seaward side of the square. The largest building in the square is also the island’s most important cultural attraction, the magnificent Byzantine Museum.
Other sights you will want to visit are the Museum of Solomos and Kalvos (another poet), on Platia Agiou Markou, just behind Platia Solomou; the impressive Bohali castle, which guards the town from a hill behind it and offers splendid panoramic views; and the Maritime Museum on the road up to Bohali.
Tucked between the bulk of Mount Skopos at the neck of the Vasilikos Peninsula, Argassi is perhaps the resort that offers the greatest balance on Zante, having something for people of all ages. It makes a reasonable family base and the beach, though quite a narrow and shingly strip, is safe for swimming. It also has a few lively bars and, on the road in from Zakynthos Town, the biggest clubs outside of Laganas.
For hikers it is ideally situated, as paths lead from the back of the resort to Mount Skopos, which can be ascended gently in a couple of hours for amazing views of the rest of the island, Kefalonia to the north and the Peloponnesian mainland to the east. In spring and early summer it will be festooned with flowers.
The other great advantage of staying in Argassi, if you rent a vehicle, is that you are within easy striking distance of the rest of the peninsula, including the far superior beaches of Kaminia, Porto Zorro, Banana, Agios Nikolaos and, most attractive of all, Gerakas. The latter is one of the main loggerhead turtle nesting grounds and is home to the interesting Turtle Information Centre. You should be careful to stay close to the shoreline if you swim here.
Conveniently located close to the airport (but there are not enough flights to make that a problem), Kalamaki is a good spot for families and young people alike. The beach is even better at this end of the Laganas Bay than it is at Laganas itself, with some rolling dunes behind the wide sandy strip. You should not have any trouble finding yourself a decent patch of space, even if you are here during peak season, and the beach is pleasantly lacking in development.
There are a couple of tavernas, one big hotel and a few holiday villas beside the sea but most of the facilities line the beach access road and the one that runs along to Laganas. These include a fair range of restaurants, among them a couple of ethnic ones, as well as cafés and bars. The nightlife is fairly low key but if you fancy strutting your stuff in one of the bigger clubs, Laganas is only 4km down the road.
Kalamaki is also in a good location for trips into Zakynthos Town, down the Vasilikos Peninsula or up into the beautiful mountains on the west of the island.
Joined imperceptibly to the village of Planos immediately inland, Tsilivi is primarily a family resort, although there is enough to do here to suit most people. You will undoubtedly find yourself spending most of the time on the nice sandy beach, which offers the usual range of beachside bars, restaurants and activities. There is also a comprehensive variety of accommodation, though no really big hotels.
The main road from the beach winds back inland as it morphs slowly into Planos, which has a far greater selection of places to stay and eat, as well as some shops and bars, all ranged along the three main thoroughfares.
In the immediate vicinity, the resort is handily placed for walks in the country lanes that divide the fertile farming land of this flatter part of Zante. It is also just a few kilometres to the Theatro Avouri cultural complex, which puts on a number of quality performance throughout the summer season. Those who find the main beach a little too busy, as it tends to get in high summer, should consider seeking out the quieter strands at Pachia Ammos and Drosia a little way to the north.
The pleasant and peaceful resort of Alikanas occupies a strategic position at the kink in the middle of Zante’s east coast, just to the south of the much busier Alykes Bay. Its main sandy strip runs south to north, culminating in a leafy bluff, on the west side of which the traditional village has expanded noticeably but subtly to accommodate tourism. There is a large resort hotel on the coast but most of the places to stay are smaller hotels or villas, some of which are quite luxurious.
Places to eat, including some delightfully authentic tavernas frequented by locals, are divided between the beach and the roads that meet in the village centre. There is not a whole lot to do here apart from getting a tan, swimming and perhaps strolling through the lush local countryside but you can easily walk up to Alykes for more options.
With wheels you are nicely placed to visit traditional villages such as Yerakari and Tragaki, a few kilometres further southwest. Yerakari is actually divided into three parts, of which hilltop Ano Yerakari has a picturesque church with an Italianate bell tower that can be seen for miles around. Tragaki is worth a stroll as it boasts some of the island’s best surviving pre-quake architecture and another beautiful church.
Named after the startling white salt pans that nestle behind it, Alykes is the liveliest place north of Zakynthos Town, although its nightlife still pales in comparison with the southern resorts and it is primarily a family destination. The sand and pebble beach is not wide but the water is relatively shallow and safe for kids. There is a decent choice both in accommodation and places to eat, which vary from traditional tavernas to restaurants offering some continental and ethnic fare.
Perhaps the best thing about Alykes is its location as the nearest resort to the absorbing northern end of the island, full of both cultural and natural delights. Only just over a kilometre inland is hillside Katastari, Zante’s second largest settlement, which offers a window into the more traditional aspects of island life. A short way south of Katastari, the tiny village of Pigadakia is home to the mildly diverting Vertzagio Cultural Museum, a pretty chapel with an underground well and a fine taverna.
Further north, you are spoilt for places to visit, among them the Askos Stone Park, the rugged surroundings of Cape Korithi, the unmissable Blue caves and the traditional weaving centre of Volimes, a great place for picking up souvenirs.